- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Four years of incumbency and an overwhelming fundraising advantage have not translated to public support for D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in his bid to fend off a Democratic primary challenge, according to poll figures released Wednesday.

A Clarus Research Group survey shows D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray leading Mr. Fenty 41 percent to 36 percent among respondents who say they are “very likely to vote” in the city’s Sept. 14 primary. Other candidates collected 2 percent support, and 21 percent of respondents said they remain undecided. Mr. Gray’s lead is just outside the poll’s margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

Gray now has the edge, but this race is far from over,” said Ron Faucheux, president of the Washington-based nonpartisan polling firm.

The poll numbers suggest that Mr. Fenty’s imposing campaign war chest - which observers once thought might intimidate would-be challengers - has had little effect on a race in which Mr. Gray has collected an array of endorsements, including those of the police and fire unions and the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.

The mayor has $1.9 million in cash on hand for the crucial final month of the campaign, compared with Mr. Gray’s $700,000, according to campaign finance figures released earlier this month.

Mr. Fenty spent $1.8 million in the reporting period from June to the beginning of August, much of it on television ads. Yet he seems to have little to show for it.

A Clarus poll released in November - before Mr. Gray announced his candidacy - gave the council chairman a 41 percent to 37 percent lead in a hypothetical two-way matchup with Mr. Fenty. The poll results released Wednesday show that, in a head-to-head matchup with Mr. Fenty, Mr. Gray’s lead has expanded to 6 percentage points, 44 percent to 38 percent.

Gray spokeswoman Traci Hughes said the campaign was “encouraged” by the numbers.

“We knew that it would be a close race,” she said. “One thing is for certain, Fenty has outspent the Gray campaign by 10-1 on ads, and it’s not moved the needle much on Fenty’s end.”

The mayor has raised a total of $4.7 million, dwarfing the $1.3 million total raised by Mr. Gray, according to campaign finance reports. Mr. Fenty is certain to double the $2.4 million he raised for the 2006 race, in which he won all 143 precincts in the city’s Democratic primary after a populist campaign largely based on a record of fulfilling constituent service requests as a council member.

The poll results suggest that Mr. Fenty is struggling to change widespread perceptions that he has become aloof and arrogant over the course of his first term in the mayor’s office. His personal favorability rating stands at 46 percent, compared with 55 percent for Mr. Gray. But his unfavorability rating is more than double Mr. Gray‘s, 42 percent versus 20 percent.

The poll contained some good news for Mr. Fenty, showing that his job-approval rating has rebounded among Democrats from 41 percent in November to 49 percent - a number slightly higher than his 46 percent personal-favorability rating.

A Fenty campaign spokesman did not return a call for comment on the poll numbers.

The survey also points to a deep racial divide among city voters, with Mr. Fenty holding a 42-point lead among white respondents and Mr. Gray with a 38-point lead among black respondents. Mr. Gray’s favorability among blacks is 70 percent - much stronger than his 39 percent favorability among whites. Conversely, Mr. Fenty has 63 percent favorability among whites compared with 33 percent among blacks.

The contentious campaign has largely turned on issues of personality, with Mr. Gray, 67, portraying himself as the responsible alternative to the 39-year-old mayor, whom he has accused of being brash and uncooperative. Mr. Fenty has pointed to a record that includes decreases in crime and increases in student test scores during his administration. Both candidates have accused each other of cronyism.

Because D.C. voters are overwhelmingly Democratic, the winner of the primary race is often considered a lock to win the November general election.

Among other findings in the poll:

  • Council member Kwame R. Brown leads former council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. in the race to succeed Mr. Gray as council chairman by a 49 percent to 39 percent margin.
  • Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee holds a 50 percent job approval rating and a 35 percent disapproval rating. While 79 percent of white respondents approve of her job performance, she has only 28 percent support among black respondents.
  • Sixty-two percent of respondents approved of the performance of the D.C. Council, compared with 22 percent who disapprove.
  • Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier is the city’s highest polling public official, with an 80 percent job-approval rating.

The poll of 501 Democratic voters was conducted Aug. 15 and 16. It was not sponsored or funded by any outside group.